The Monster Central Control System AVL300 with OmniLink and ControlNet Lighting is a revolutionary control system and worthy of consideration for many users.
The ease of set -up that has become synonymous with Logitech Harmony Universal Remote Controls has revolutionized the remote control in the past few years. Instead of Macros some of the most advanced home theater systems are now being controlled with "activities" and "Smart State Technology," making it easier for every one in the house to use the remote control. The only knock against the older generation Logitech Harmony remote controls has been that the programming lacked some of the customization of other remotes but Logitech is making every effort to change that perception by introducing more advanced controllers like the Harmony 880, 890 and the new 1000. Other manufacturers like Harman Kardon and Monster Central are also looking to the Harmony technology, which brings me to the topic of this review - The Monster Central Control System AVL300.
In creating AVL300 Monster Cable partnered with Logitech while they were developing the RF -based Harmony 890 and brought them the Z -Wave lighting protocol. Logitech was originally working with the Cypress RF chips used in URC remotes, but Monster's partnership with Z -Wave and the launch of the Monster Lighting products was the extra incentive the product designers needed to incorporate the Z -wave technology. Monster Central basically leveraged Logitech's Harmony database and set -up infrastructure and jointly developed a MONSTER. The Monster AVL300 remote is not only capable of providing a complete control solution for your entire AV system, it has also been complemented by Monster's Central Control System for multi -room RF capability and advanced lighting control.
Unboxing the Monster Central Control System AVL300
I've just received the Monster AVL300 and my initial impression is "Hey, this thing looks a lot better in person than it does in pictures."
AVL300 boxedAs with all new electronic devices I tore right into the packaging and placed the rechargeable LiIon battery into the remote. I then unwrapped the included AC Power cord and charger and put the remote on the cradle to sit for a full day. It took me a few quick touches to get the remote to sit on the charger just right but I don't think it will be a problem once I get the hang of it. The charging base is very small and only sits under the top end of the remote so you need to pay attention to the placement to make sure the remote matches up. In my opinion, this extra tenth of a second is worth it because I like the small footprint the charger requires when the remote is not based. The cradle is hardly noticeable on the corner of my living room end table, which helps add to the spouse acceptance factor for this particular controller.
Also included snugly in the plastic packaging are the Monster Central OmniLink receiver, 4 dual IR emitters and the Monster Central Control System Setup CD with USB programming cable. I was happy to see that the AVL300 is using the standard USB to mini -USB cable and includes everything you need for both IR and RF communication.
Setting Up the Monster AVL300
Once I knew the AVL300 had completed its initial charge I installed the setup software on my laptop. The software installed very quickly and immediately checked for and installed the available update to Monster Central Software 6.2.9 (as of 12/8/06).
AVL300 set -upThe first step of the set -up was to create a login ID, which took less than 2 minutes.
Step 2 was to connect the remote to the computer. The AVL300 is thankfully a plug & play USB device and was immediately recognized. Once the hardware was added and communication was confirmed the Monster Central Setup software automatically checked the remote and installed the latest 4.7 firmware upgrade (as of 12/8/06). This upgrade took approx. 3 min. Next, the OmniLinksoftware asked to check & update the OmniLink, which quickly connects to the PC with the same standard USB cable. A firmware update for the OmniLink (to version 2.3 as of 12/8/06) was available and was automatically downloaded and installed - all in less than 3 minutes.
Now that all of these components were installed, updated and communicated with to ensure proper operation I was brought to a confirmation screen which gave me the option to add another AVL300 to my control system or proceed to the next step. This is one of the biggest advantages the Monster AVL300 has over any remote in this price range available direct to the consumer - the ability to create a multi -room, whole -house control system from an easy to use programming interface. As you'll se in the rest of this review, I quickly configured a system with two AVL300 and multiple lighting modules to control equipment in the opposite corners of my modest 2,500 sq ft home.
Step 3 - Setup Components and Rooms
First you select the rooms with the components that you wish to control and it's great that Monster give's you the option of naming the rooms yourself. In my example set -up, I successfully chose the Living Room and added "Play Room" to the list. Now that the rooms are added to the database you are brought into the first of your rooms to set -up the ControlNet lighting modules. I personally would have preferred to set -up the home theater components before the lighting because that's the way I've always approached my control solutions. In my mind you decide first that you want to "Watch DVD" and then decide that the lights should be dimmed to 20% in order to set -the mood and still give you enough light to enjoy your popcorn. I was surprised to see the lighting question come up first in the Monster setup wizard so I put my laptop down and got up to install two Monster Central Control Lighting Modules.
In Wall Dimmer
The first lighting module I installed was an in -wall dimmer. Replacing my wall switch with the Monster ML -IWD 6005 600w Wireless In -Wall Light Dimmer took approximately 15 minutes and was as effortless as any switch I've installed. I was impressed by the quality and construction of the switch and the fact that it was a Leviton manufactured device. The hidden screw design faceplate was also a nice touch. The screws that hold the switch into the wall are covered by a solid design faceplate, which is another design element that improves the spouse acceptance factor of the Monster Control System.
Lamp Dimmer Module
The second lighting module I installed on the other side of my home was a plug -in lamp module which took about 15 seconds and is perfect for those who want to add lighting control without opening a tool box. The plug -in modules simply plug into your current electrical outlet and then your lamp plugs directly into the module itself.
Once the in -wall switch and the plug -in lamp modules were installed I returned to my laptop and the Monster Central Setup software and was brought directly to Step 3, right where I left off. The next programming step required me to set -up each of the devices on my PC, update that information to the AVL300 controller, and then make a trip with the controller to each module and pair them with the AVL300 and the OmniLink. This entire process was very quick and easy. It took me longer to walk from the opposite sides of my home than it did to pair each device!
The next step in the ControlNet process is to set -up lighting scenes. The setup software automatically provided a few default scenes and I didn't spend a lot of time programming additional scenes because of the small number of lighting modules I have installed at this time. This is definitely a handy option for more detailed lighting control systems with multiple modules in each room. The Monster ControlNet lighting modules, the AVL300 and the Monster Omnilink all communicate via the new Z -Wave technology, which is a wireless mesh network designed for reliable home automation and wireless communication.
Once the lighting configuration was completed the programming software became more similar to the Logitech Harmony software I've used previously. Setting up the AV Components is as easy as answering a few questions and the more prepared or knowledgeable you are with your system the easier these next few steps will be. First you enter the room in the Monster Software (i.e. Living Room or Play Room) and select the Manufacturer of your devices from a pull down menu. In my Living Room I selected:
TV = Samsung > Receiver = Yamaha >Set top Box = Sciantific Atlanta, etc.
Next you enter the specific model number for each device. The nice thing here is that the Monster Central Software offers an example part number specific to that manufacturer so if you don't know the model number for your devices you can quickly look at the example and compare it to the letter and number combinations on the back of your components. This is a huge time saver and a big help for those with limited technical knowledge.
Next you choose whether you want your devices to be controlled via the IR signal from the AVL300 or the RF communication from the OmniLink. MCC Software offered OmniLink Control as the default since RF communication is definitely the preferred method when available. I tested the AVL300 in both the IR and RF communication modes and will discuss both in depth in the usage report later in this review.
Step 4 - Set Up Activities
The Monster Central Software took a look at the devices in my Living Room and offered the following activities by default. Watch PVR, Watch DVD, Listen to CDs and Listen to Radio. These were exactly the Activities I wanted. Setting up each activity took just under a minute and was as simple as choosing which device I wanted to control the volume in each activity and confirm the input settings and power macros for the devices included in each activity.
Step 5 - Updating the Remote
Now that all of the proper setting were configured and confirmed the Monster Central Control System Software updated both the OmniLink and the AVL300 in approximately 4 minutes. Now the fun begins...
Advanced Programming Options
Once the remotes and OmniLinks are properly configured there are several options available to customize the remote. You can change the layout of just about every screen and button on the remote to match exactly what you envisioned. You can customize the background images and add channel logos for all your favorite channels. If you're not feeing creative enough to customize these images yourself you can find quite a few available for free download from this RemoteCentral user "jthree" who posted this site for the Harmony 880 Remote. The image sizes and options are the same for the AVL300. While we're in the customization mode, you can also add your own images to create a slideshow that will play while the remote sits idly in the charging base. In my home adding a slideshow of the kids and the obligatory wedding photo raised the spouse acceptance factor another twenty percent! I can only pretend to imagine how different this slide show is going to look in my buddy's bachelor pad - but that's the beauty of complete customization options!
Using the Monster AVL300 as an IR controller
The first of my "tests" was to use the Monster AVL300 as a stand -alone IR controller. No OmniLink, no RF, just pure line of sight commands to my components. The AVL300 executed my activities properly 19 out of 20 times and I'm sure the only miss was my own fault in moving the remote too soon. The Activities can take a while to execute so patience is a virtue. In my unscientific experiment I found the overall IR strength to be average but I found the overall execution of the activities to be a bit slow using the default delay settings programmed to my remote. I was shocked to discover that the AVL300 was capable of controlling my ControlNet lighting modules even without the OmniLink connected. Then I remembered that one of the most promising features of the new Z -Wave technology is that every module is both a transmitter and receiver creating a reliable and easy -to -use network.
Using the Monster AVL300 with the OmniLink
The OmniLink is included with the AVL300 so I can't imagine why anyone would choose to use the remote as a stand -alone IR device. The OmniLink itself is smaller than a pack of cigarettes and has four addressable IR outputs. Monster includes dual IR emitters making it easy to set -up at least 8 components. I mounted the OmniLink just below my Plasma TV and next to my other components and, to my surprise, had flawless communication right from the start. There were no symptoms of RF interference in my home and no need for the typical trial and error placement that other RF receivers have required from me in the past.
Using the Monster AVL300 with the IlluminEssense Lighting Modules & ControlNet Network
I must confess, it took me a few minutes to try to figure out how to control the lighting modules as stand alone devices. The Monster Lighting Control button at the top center of the remote is the only button other than the select joystick that does not have a backlit label. The button is also black and since it has the Monster Central logo on it I thought it was surrounded with light as a design element. DUHHHH! Once I figured out that this was actually a button I felt a bit stupid and was once again very impressed by the simplicity of the remote. I was able to control the lighting modules from anywhere in my home reliably, every time. I live in a 2,500 sq ft colonial. One module is on the northeast corner of the first floor and the other module is on the NW corner of my Master bedroom on the second floor. I would estimate the distance between these devices to be only about 70'. There was no loud click like you'll hear on inexpensive X10 modules and there were no stray commands caused by powerline noise, phase coupling or other traditional issues. I will be adding more Z -Wave lights to replace my current X10 modules and I look forward to the advanced scene control options this will allow. I have also received some even more encouraging insight from Monster regarding their upgrade plans for the AVL300. There are several upgrades planned for the near future although they would not commit to release dates at this time. These upgrades will include:
1. AVL300 using SCENE COMMAND CLASS Utilizing the embedded RAM memory in the lighting modules to improve the execution of scenes and alleviate some of the reliance on the remote control
2. Scene "Snapshot" - Allowing you to put a scene in a "snap shot" mode, make manual adjustments to the light values, and then "snapshotting" the new scene setting without having to make these changes online -a great convenience for altering scenes during daylight savings or for installers who don't want to roll a truck out to a customer's house to make simple scene adjustments
3. Scene Fade - a "+" and " -" will appear on the Right and LEFT of each scene ID when the AVL300 is in the lighting control mode. This will alllow the user to tap "+" or " -" to turn the scene ON or OFF or press and hold "+" or " -" to dim/fade the scene up or down
4. Mapping lighting scenes to other hard buttons - ("Pause" the movie to bring the lights up to get popcorn for example)
5. Polling - allowing each AVL300 to poll the network
6. Self correction - if a module is unplugged or is defective, the network will self correct and not get "hung up" on the module if it cannot find it for validation
The Monster Central Control System AVL300 with OmniLink and ControlNet Lighting is a revolutionary control system and worthy of consideration for many users.
* Unbelievably easy set -up and affordable price for a multi -room/whole house AV and lighting control system.
Customizable options and high spouse acceptance factor.
* Color LCD screen and high -tech design makes it the perfect remote for practical use and to show off to your friends.
* Rechargeable LiIon battery.
* RF communication via the revolutionary Z -wave technology.
* Activity functions may feel limiting to advanced programmers who want full flexibility with macro programming.
* I would personally like to see a higher resolution screen and a re -designed center joystick. This "select" joystick feels just a bit fragile for my big sausage fingers.
* Web programming requires Internet connection.
I would have no hesitation recommending the AVL300 to anyone who has gone out of the way to build a state of the art home theater system with multiple zones and whole -house audio. The AVL300 is the perfect combination of an easy to program system with complete flexibility and expansion. The fact that you can quickly program and network up to six AVL300 controllers and hundreds of lighting modules in your home make the Monster Central Control System well -worth consideration.